Wednesday, April 22, 2015

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio is being marketed as Middlesex meets Mean Girls, but this underplays the educational content of this groundbreaking book. The original premise was designed to hook teens: a homecoming queen discovers that she is intersex when sex with her boyfriend is excruciatingly painful. At her first gynecological exam, Kristin learns that her chromosomes are XY. When her secret is leaked at school, Kristin becomes a target of bullies and fears she might lose her athletic scholarship to college.
"That was when I realized that life was a multiple-choice test with two answers: Male or Female. And I was None of the Above."
The tabloids premise cleverly disguises the educational content in this outstanding book for teens. I.W. Gregorio is a pen name for the urological surgeon Dr. Ilene Wong, who was inspired by a real patient and also by the controversy about World Champion runner Caster Semenya. None of the Above has easy to understand explanations about what being intersex entails. Gender is described as having three components: chromosomes, physiology and sexual identity. The moral lesson is more nuanced.
"If there's one thing I learned from my dad leaving my mom, it's that love isn't a choice. You fall for the person, not their chromosomes."
The writing is strong for a debut, but None of the Above is not a literary novel nor does it try to be one. The plot is well paced and easy to follow, clearly geared for reluctant readers. The main characters are likable and well developed but aren't especially quirky. Kristin herself is quite a typical teen who likes guys, parties and running/hurdling. By making her intersex protagonist so normal, the author reinforces the message that intersex people are not freaks. The Gossip Girl writing style means this book will reach more readers and hopefully make life easier for intersex teens.

I'd strongly recommend None of the Above to Sexual Education teachers and to all teenagers aged fourteen and up. This book isn't a kinky story about exploring deviant sexuality. Kristin feels 100% female and only wants to be normal. Her realistic story delivers a powerful message about identity, tolerance and love, which will resonate with any teen who doesn't quite fit in at school. Adults who are looking for a literary novel with an intersex protagonist should read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, one of my favorite books.

Reviewer's Disclosure: I purchased the ebook on its release date April 7, 2015 and was not compensated for this review. I'm a supporting member of We Need Diverse Books of which I.W. Gregorio is vice president.

Popham Beach, Maine in April


walk2write said...

Many people are so put off by a negative perception and even fear of gay rights activism aimed at teens that they might dismiss yet another book exploring what it's like to be different from the sexual norm. I'm glad that you point out the sensitivity and medical experience which this author brings to the table.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Sarah,

This seems to us to be a tricky topic to handle sensitively and well within the context of a novel. However, the author clearly has the expertise to bring to this subject and anything which heightens sensitivities amongst people in relation to the complexities of intersex issues must be a force for good.

This could well be a groundbreaking novel and is all the more welcome for that.

Amanda Summer said...

Sounds fascinating. I think I've told you before I was unable to finish Middlesex, not quite sure why.

Petra Pavlátková said...

Geared for reluctant readers… I like that pacing as it would be something I would need. I find it not easy to accept all those forms of intersex and transsexualism but understand well that one is born with certain dispositions and that's all this is about. Written by a specialist and inspired by a real patient, well, that's another book I'd love to read!
I hadn't known the story of Caster Semenya and find it very interesting. A lot to think about!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Can I live in that little house on that little island??

troutbirder said...

Well its got to be better than reading about Bruce Jenner at the supermarket checkout line...

A Cuban In London said...

A very clever book by the looks of it. Both in title and content. Thanks for the review.

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

All, thanks for considering this book with an open mind and empathy.

Troutbirder, Bruce Jenner is transgender, meaning his chromosomes and physiology/reproductive anatomy is male, but his gender identity is female. Transgender people may take hormones and have surgery to change their physiology. An intersex person is born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit the normal physiological definition of male or female. The character in this book appeared female but lacked a uterus and had un-descended testicles. You are right, though, to point out that this subject deserves more serious treatment than what is in the tabloids.

thecuecard said...

Beautiful photo of Maine. I need to read Middlesex which I know is great. There's a good novel on the same subject which I read last year for book club. It's called Annabel by Kathleen Winter. Canadian. Pretty good book. Hopefully these 3 books will bring more acceptance and understanding.

Rose said...

Sounds like a timely topic. Any book that treats such a subject with sensitivity and helps teens be more empathetic to those who are "different" is certainly worth reading.

Hope mud season is almost over for you!

cynthia newberry martin said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I considered that title for my own WIP : )

Stacy said...

Spring is finally in Maine! Congrats!

Here in Michigan, we tend to experience all four seasons in a single week, turning layering into an art form.

Beautiful photos, as always.

Stacy said...

I just realized I meant to comment on the post above this one with my previous comment. Oh, well.

I would be interested in reading this. Middlesex is one of my favorites too, but as long as I don't expect this YA novel to be Pulitzer worthy, I don't think I'll be disappointed. :)

Bee said...

Sarah, you have such a good nose for interesting books that haven't yet hit the mainstream. I always like to see what you are reading. As you pointed out in the comments, the protagonist's plight is not the same as Bruce Jenner's, but sexuality and sexual identity are not always clearcut -- and this is a topical issue. The more information teens have, the better.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cue, thanks for the recommendation!

Rose, so true.

Cynthia, it’s lucky that you chose another title for you WIP to avoid confusion.

Stacy, yes, we layer in Maine too. I’d love to hear your reaction to NONE OF THE ABOVE.

Bee, I love hearing about YA books on your side of the pond. Yeah for cross-pollination! I think/hope that reading this book will make people more sympathetic to all teens who are questioning their gender.